Texas drivers beware: A camera system could soon be installed along some state roadways, logging motorists' speeds and generating warnings that will be sent to violators.
But the estimated $2.5 million pilot project -- geared to test technology and ensure that Texas roads have proper speed limits -- is making state Rep. Vicki Truitt see red.
She succeeded in passing a bill this year to prevent cities -- including Rhome, Marble Falls and Chillicothe -- from using the same technology to crack down on speeders.
"It's hypocritical that the state would force cities to cease and desist and then turn around and use the same technology," said Truitt, R-Keller. "Plus, it's costing $2.5 million of hard-earned money to do a study on technology that the Legislature indicated it would not use.
"That money is better used for our badly needed highway projects.
"If they don't fix it, we'll fix it when we go back" in 2009, she said.
They have been decried as "Nazi cams," "yellow vultures" and more.
Whatever the nicknames, state transportation officials said that they began looking at speed cameras long before the 2007 legislative session began.
And it was in April, weeks before Truitt's bill passed, that the Texas Department of Transportation asked companies to submit plans to provide the state with the cameras and system.
"We're just looking at technology to see how useful it may be to let us test or change speed limits," said Mark Cross, a department spokesman.
The goal is to have two test areas for the cameras: one along Texas 6 between Bryan and College Station, and a second on Interstate 10 in Hudspeth County in West Texas.
"The cameras would capture the license plate number and speed of vehicles, and send them a letter of notification that they passed through the study speed zone," Cross said.
The department sets, but does not enforce, speed limits. Officials say the technology could help them determine whether speed limits throughout Texas are appropriate.
Cross said he doesn't know when the six-month pilot project would start.
Truitt's bill prevents Texas cities from using cameras to take pictures of speeders and send tickets through the mail.
The goal was to curtail the actions of municipalities such as Rhome and Marble Falls, which had begun to use cameras to ticket violators.
"Our method of justice has always been innocent until proven guilty," Truitt said. "This changes that. You're guilty until proven innocent.
"A person could be arrested and not even know they committed an offense," she said. "Technology is booming and progressive and we wanted to stop it before it got ahead of us."
Not to mention that it might spark "Big Brother" fears of government watching everything its citizens do.
But Truitt said the fact that lawmakers passed a bill touching on the issue should have sent a strong signal to transportation officials. She has called transportation officials and sent them letters signed by herself and other lawmakers asking them to stop the pilot project.
"We're the elected representatives from the people," she said. "When they get a sign like that, with the bill passing, they usually alter course.
"I am annoyed ... that [the department] could not read the intention of the elected body."
Some estimates show that speed cameras can be profitable. After paying the state and the company operating the camera, Rhome pulled in about $90,000 during the roughly three months the cameras were operating, officials said. And estimates show that the British government drew about $240 million in revenue in one year from the cameras.
How it works
Cameras would be installed along two roadways to monitor how fast motorists are traveling.
Two cameras would be used to track the time a vehicle takes to cover a specified distance.
The first camera would photograph the vehicle as it entered the test area.
The second camera would photograph the vehicle as it left the test area. The time elapsed between the two images would show whether a motorist was speeding.
Speeders would be sent warnings -- not tickets -- in the mail.
Source: Texas Department of Transportation